Puerto Ricans like Carmen Damaris Quiñones Torres still do not know who their candidates for governor are two days after the island held a chaotic primary election that was to determine who will be in the ballot in November.
Quiñones Torres, who lives in the town of Trujillo Alto, was preparing to vote in Puerto Rico Elementary on Sunday when she revealed that her polling station was closed because she had never voted. Other polling stations received ballots a few hours after voting was scheduled to begin or end halfway.
These scenes were reworked in hundreds of polling stations on the island.
Quiñones Torres, with the help of the ACLU chapter of Puerto Rico, is suing the president of the island̵7;s Electoral Commission, as well as commissioners of political parties overseeing the primary, claiming their decision to close the polls early, as the start was taking place, Sunday was illegal and unconstitutional.
Election Commission President Juan Ernesto Dávila, along with party commissioners María Santiago Rodríguez and Lind Merle Feliciano as well as other officials, are facing strong reactions to the early closure of polls. Other critics have also slammed them for leaving polling stations that eventually received ballots for extended hours, arguing that some voters had already left because of delays.
Dávila told Telemundo Puerto Rico on Tuesday evening that his agency is working to reopen polling stations that did not receive ballots Sunday for a primary composition on August 16th. It’s unclear what will happen to the polling stations that emerged from the ballots.
Mayte Bayolo-Alonso, an ACLU lawyer working on the case, told NBC News that there is no “law-enforcement law, resolution or ruling” that allows Election Commission members who are “unelected officials who are part of the an executive agency “, to suspend or postpone an elementary.
“Extend it, you can do it because you are not restricting the right to vote, you are providing more. But they can not limit the date or time of an ongoing primary,” she said. “Even in the US, the law makes it clear that you can not close polls in the middle of the election process.”
“When you do that, you cause irreparable damage,” Bayolo-Alonso said. “What we are trying to do now is mitigate that damage and make sure those who are left out can exercise their right to vote.”
The biased process also prompted a host of lawsuits from candidates on the primary ballot – including one from Gov. Wanda Vázquez, who was not elected after taking office last year when then-government. Ricardo Rosselló resigned amid mass protests sparked by a political scandal. Its main opponent Pedro Pierluisi, who as Vázquez is from the New Progressive New Citizenship Party, is also suing as well as opposition party candidates Eduardo Bhatia and Carlos Delgado.
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Carlos Méndez, president of the island’s House of Representatives, and other officials are urging the commission to release the results of nearly 60 of the 110 constituencies where voting took place in an effort to be transparent. Others are urging the commission to continue releasing the results, arguing that it could affect the way people vote in make-up elections.
On Wednesday morning, the Puerto Rican Supreme Court issued an order to paralyze “the counting, reviewing and disclosure of votes cast on last Sunday’s principles” until the matter is resolved.
The ballots of those who voted are in “closed cages” in a stadium that serves as the center of operation of the Election Commission. They are being protected by police and representatives of candidates running for office, according to Dávila.
By suppressing usually high turnout?
Bayolo-Alonso said she saw many red flags before the start after the Puerto Rican government passed a new election code in June amid the coronavirus pandemic – changing election rules about 130 days before the island’s general election.
This meant that Puerto Rican voters – often known to have a voter turnout of 70 percent or more – had limited time to learn what counts as a valid vote, and the agencies overseeing the process. voters had to work against the clock to respect the new set of rules.
“Even by the time the new electoral code was adopted, the Electoral Commission was set up to fail,” Bayolo-Alonso said in Spanish. The new code requires ballots to be printed 75 days before the election, but that new rule was put in place on June 20, two weeks before Sunday primary. “So since its adoption, there were already violations,” she said.
Among the coronavirus concerns, Porto Rikans living on the island can participate in a primary only if they vote in person, under the new electoral code. “And that option was limited by a clumsy process,” Bayolo-Alonso said.
Moreover, the Puerto Rican coronavirus blockade prevented new voters from registering for 95 days. New voters in Puerto Rico can only register in person. “This is also a kind of voter repression,” Bayolo-Alonso said.
It is now up to the Supreme Court of Puerto Rican to draft a legal framework that ensures that the electoral process is not exposed during the November general election.
The Puerto Rican Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case sometime Wednesday evening.
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